The Thorny Path of Suffering

I went to a friend’s house today. I was nervous about it because Holden is more unpredictable than a girl’s mood when it comes to new environments.   He has wanted to stay home all week. Not sure why. Can’t ask him. I just know that he has cried every time I’ve opened the garage. I’m not that bright but I can figure out that means he doesn’t want to leave. So we’ve been hanging out at home. A lot. I am a chronic homebody so this should be good except for the fact that it’s pretty boring. I am astounded each time I look at the clock and see how little time has gone by. The minutes are like slugs moving along one inch at a time through maple syrup. So I piddle around the house trying to find things to do until I finally land in a chair somewhere and cue up The Office on Netflix. There’s something about watching Jim and Pam do their little dance that makes those slug minutes go a little bit faster.

Because I am a somewhat responsible adult, I had to shut the computer down and actually take my kids out. Steve is out of town all weekend and I knew Hudson would be sad so I made plans. I rudely invited myself over to my friend’s house and she graciously said yes. I was nervous about it before we left but I pushed the concern out of my head and just prayed that it would go okay. The first 5 minutes were great and the next hour after that was miserable. Holden was loving their elderly cat, Yum Yum. If I had another kid, I might just name him that. Yum Yum grew tired of Holden’s advances and started getting snippy. My friend was worried that Yum Yum would bite Holden so she took her upstairs. That was it. Holden instantly shifted from a state of Nirvana to a state of despair. The poor kid could not regroup. He searched harder for that cat than a fully equipped search and rescue team. And he wouldn’t give up. He went to the front yard, the back yard and the side yard. He looked in corners and closets. He can’t talk but when he looked at me his eyes were pleading, “Please Mom. Show me where the cat is!” My friend turned on his favorite movie and that helped for a little while. I threw snacks at him and tried to hug him. Dana pulled out the big guns and dragged down a big bucket of Thomas trains. And through it all, Holden’s passion for YumYum never wavered. After about an hour of his unsuccessful search mission, he suddenly looked up to the sky like he was praying for the strength to go on, and just started to sob. I tried to hug him but he pulled away and the tears fell. I looked at Dana and said, “I think it’s time I put Holden out of his misery and leave.”

He softly wept into his stuffed animal as I buckled him in. As silly as it sounds, I wanted to weep with him. I absolutely hate when he suffers. I can’t explain things to him because he doesn’t understand. I can’t teach him coping skills. I can’t distract him or comfort him. The only out is literally “out.” We simply must leave the scene of the crime.

Now we’re home and he’s happily lining up his shark figurines in the backyard, uttering strange but happy noises, and completely at peace. I take a deep breath as I sit back in the secure knowledge that he is at rest. But at the same time, I am struck with the awfulness of the whole situation. And I remember once again how unwell he is. It’s easier to forget when we are at home and he’s settled. But man, the second we go out into the world the reality of his condition asserts itself immediately. It’s like getting broken up with over and over again. You start to think that maybe things will be okay and then- bam, it is undeniable that it isn’t. And the sadness sweeps over me yet again.

We can’t even consider doing things that are so normal, like going to the beach or to a restaurant or even to a new park. It’s crazy. Our victories are so incredibly small. I sound like I’m complaining. Maybe I am. What I think I’m doing is taking a step back and absorbing the gravity of the obstacles we face. And they’re weird obstacles. Like the fact that we have to leave a long-time friend’s house because the cat was put in a room. Sometimes I think about the future and it absolutely overwhelms me.

I think of the parable of the seeds. One kind of seed was the kind that was choked by the worries of the world. I don’t want to be that seed. I see now that the path God has for me is a path filled with thorns. If I pretend they are not there I am in denial. If I dwell on them I am self-indulgent. If I recognize they are there and walk ahead anyways, fueled by the knowledge that this path filled with thorns in fact leads to Life that one day will be without any trace of sorrow at all, I am exactly where I should be.

Does it hurt? Yes.

Is it overwhelming? Yes.

Is this the path God has chartered for me, and will He carry me through it? Yes and yes!

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There is no painless path of suffering, is there? There is only the thorny one. But what I’ve learned about those achingly endless thorns is that they help me to face reality, not avoid it. They help me stay focused, not distracted. They help me take my pain and hand it to God instead of holding onto it and nursing it. The thorns help me well up an insatiable thirst for a Life that is thorn-free. And that Life isn’t here on earth. It’s there, in the New Earth.

All in all, even on my best spiritual day, I confess I’d choose a smooth path over a thorny one. But the thorny path of suffering is what makes saints, not simply believers. I want to be like God, not simply a fan of God.

So although I would never volunteer for it, I will yield to it. I will acknowledge that suffering often makes us miserable. But more importantly than that, it makes us more like Him. And that is enough for me.  It has to be.

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